Category Archives: Technology

Asking the Data Geeks to Use Good Problem Solving

The other day I was catching up on reading some blogs.  I came across one on the Harvard Review Blog titled “Seven Questions to Ask Your Data Geek.”

The title drew me in because I can be a data geek myself sometimes.

The seven questions caught my eye very quickly.  When you read them you can see they are related to what good problem solvers with lean thinking ask.

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?  You want to be sure there is a problem to solve and not just a band aide or a just going and implementing something the customer wants.  You want to truly understand what is needed.  This is the first question to ask because it helps to define the problem.
  2. Do you have a deep understanding of what the data really means?  Read between the lines and it says to get off your rump and go and see what is really happening.  The data is a good directional start, but how are people gathering the data?  How are people using the data?  The person needs to understand what is really happening.
  3. Should we trust the data? Now that you have gone out and seen how the data is really gathered, can we use the data to help with the problem we are trying to solve?  Do we need to gather different data to better understand the problem?
  4. Are there  “big factors”, preconceived notions, hidden assumptions or conflicting data that could compromise your analysis?  This is still getting at drilling deeper and understanding the current state for the data.  During the problem solving process you should be spending about 75% of the time just understanding what is really going on before looking for solutions.  As you can see the first four questions are about understanding the current state.
  5. Will your conclusions standup to the scrutiny of our markets, moderately changing conditions, and a “worst-case scenario?” Now that you have deeper understood the current state, you start looking for solutions.  Will the solution hold up?  Are you getting to the true root cause of the problem?  Will the problem be eliminated?
  6. Who will be impacted and how?  Now that you understand the problem and have a solution you need to know how this will affect the business.  Change management should always be a piece of the problem solving process, because changes always affect people.  Sometimes they embrace the change it if helps them a lot.  Sometimes they don’t embrace the change, so always be aware.
  7. What can I do to help?  Always be willing to help fix the problem.  Don’t always leave it to someone else.

These are seven great questions to ask anyone when problem solving, not just your data geek.

IT in a Modern Company

Over the last few months, I have gain a greater appreciation for the role that an IT division plays in a company.  It use to be that IT was there to make sure the servers were running and all the software applications were working.  Not a small task by any means.  There is a lot of building, testing and monitoring that has to go on to accomplish this.

In today’s technology age, a lot more has been added to their plate.  With the explosion of wireless technology and cell phones there is a lot more to consider.  There is more security exposure through cloud computing and mobile transactions.

Most companies are trying to utilize apps on a tablet or smartphone.  It isn’t as simple as building an app.  What is security around the app?  How do you make the app available?  iTunes?  Other methods?  Are you accepting customer data from the app like credit card information?  What is the security compliance to keep that information safe?

It really is amazing all the added responsibility the new technologies have given an IT division in a company.

While all the background work may not be value added to the customer, it is necessary in order to deliver the value to the customer.  We must be able to provide the security and app in the most efficient manner.

Are there things you have seen that has increased IT responsibilities in your company?

Using Technology to Take Notes

A few months ago, I read a blog (I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it) about how note taking in meetings is changing in today’s world. With tablets and smartphones and laptops and WiFi, etc…more and more people are taking notes electronically.

The blog was about people who get upset when technology is used in a meeting because they think the person isn’t paying attention. The thought is the person is doing email or something not related to the meeting. And yes I have seen that.

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been inching towards using technology to take notes even though I still like my pen and paper. I have found it is easier to share with others and storing takes up little memory versus large filing cabinets with all the paper in it. My computer search is faster than going through a filing cabinet and Microsoft OneNote makes it note taking easier on a computer.

With that, I think there is still etiquette to be used when using technology to take notes.

  • If it is a large meeting (about 10 or more people), it may be OK just to open up the computer and take notes because several people will be doing it
  • If it is a large meeting and no one else is using technology you may ask the leader of the meeting if it is alright to use your computer or tablet device. You can ask off to the side before it starts or at the very beginning of the meeting with the whole group because others may want to do it also.
  • If it is small meeting (less than 10 people) or a 1-on-1 type meeting, you should ask if it is alright to take notes electronically.
  • A 1-on-1 meeting you still might consider using pen and paper. I know this is extra work but sometimes if you are using a computer, it can get in the way and block the view of the other person. The computer can feel like a wall between you.
  • Understand the meeting before taking notes. Some meetings don’t require you to need to take notes, so there is no need to have your computer or tablet open. Maybe detailed notes will be handed out. Another example are kaizen events. Notes don’t need to be taken by individuals in kaizen events. All the notes are captured on the flip chart paper and post-its. It is more important to have everyone 100% engaged.

All and all, taking notes electronically can be a good thing and is something more and more people are doing. It is alright to do. If you are a person using technology to take notes have some etiquette and understand who is leading the meeting and the purpose before opening your computer or tablet and typing away.

 

Process Work Changes People’s Thinking

I am still amazed at what can be accomplished by improving the process first and then looking at how technology can support the process.  I have always been a big advocate of looking at process first.  Yet, still today I see great cases of studying the process first and then implementing supporting technology.  In most cases, the technology needed to support the process is simpler than the original technology plans.

The rewarding part of the work is having success in an area that was hesitant to have the process work done.  An area claiming just to need the technology.  After completing the process work and seeing the benefits, that same area starts to ask for more process work to be done.  That is a great feeling.

Another benefit of getting people to see the benefit of doing the process work first is they start to ask more questions around the end-to-end process.  People start to see the entire process and the affects a change has in one area can have on another area.  The end-to-end discussion becomes easier for people to have.

This shift in mentality can start to break down work silos and get more people engaged in the entire process.

Are you doing end-to-end process improvement at your company?  Is it starting to change people’s perspective?

SAP…Not So Bad

When I’m wrong, I need to say I was wrong.  For years I have been staunch supporter of eliminating SAP.

SAP bad.  Lean Good.  That was my stance.

A few weeks ago, I went to an SAP conference to learn more about their Customer Relations Management (CRM) module.  My company is implementing this module in the next year and a half.

I learned a lot at the conference.  The most important learning I had was SAP has a lot of functionality that can be very helpful even in lean companies.

Don’t mistake this with supporting ERP/MRP systems.  I still believe that ERP/MRP systems are the opposite of lean and should not be used.  The mistake I made was equating SAP with ERP.

SAP has an ERP/MRP module that is a large part of their business, but SAP also has so much to offer.  SAP has ways to get data out and digestible.  It can give directionally correct data so you can go and see what is actually happening in order to solve the issues as an example.

I equated SAP to ERP/MRP and it isn’t.  SAP has benefits to even lean companies.  Understand what SAP has to offer and what your process needs are and try to match those needs up.  This is just true for SAP, but for any technology.

Technology can be a great thing, but only when it supports your process, not defines the process.

Process Before Technology

Before I start, technology is a wonderful thing.  It has helped to make processes more efficient and work to be done much easier.

With that being said, before technology is used or put into place, the processes that technology will support should be examined.  Take the time to create a value stream map or a process map and examine the process for waste.  Design the future state of the process.  Then define what are the changes where technology is not needed and what changes where technology is needed.

The technology should be designed to support the process.  Not the process designed to support the technology.  This is an issue that occurs quite often.

Improving the process first creates a better understanding what is truly needed from the technology.  A company can save a lot of money by improving the process first because technology may not be needed at all or fewer components may be needed than originally thought.  Also, if your put technology into a bad process all you have done is make a bad process go faster.  That means you are throwing away money faster than you before because of the waste in the process.

The key to remember is the technology should support the process.  We shouldn’t be putting in technology as a substitute to better the process.

Technology is here to stay.  We should use it to our advantage, but we should use it correctly to support our processes, not to define them.

Pit Stops and Lean

As I continue my mini-series on NASCAR leading up to the Daytona 500, I am going to share some thoughts on  Pit Stops.   Just probably not in the same way you have heard it before.

Most people who have been involved with Lean for any length of time have been exposed to the Pit Stop and the Pit Crew as an example for a SMED/Changeover activity.  It’s a fantastic real world example of the value of planning, organizing and choreographing a changeover.  Honestly, I don’t know what I could write about that aspect of the pit stop that hasn’t already been written by somebody else better than I could.  I’m much more interested in a bit of strategic change that I’ve noticed in the races that has some applications as well.

The aspect of the pit stop that I have taken a big interest in lately is the strategy around multiple changes happening within the same stop.  There are really two main activities in a pit stop, changing tires and adding fuel.  All else being equal, newer tires will allow the cars to be faster and, at 4 miles per gallon or so there is a huge need for fuel.  It takes about 6 seconds to change tires on one side of the car and 13 seconds to change tires on both sides of the car.  It’s about 6 seconds to add half of the fuel capacity and 13 seconds to fill it completely.  It becomes visible pretty fast that the times match up closely to provide several combinations.  For example, If I know that I need a half tank more fuel to finish the race, then I can put 2 tires on and get two improvements in pretty much the same time.  Or if I know I have to replace the tires, I can make sure the gas tank is filled up at the same stop and maybe not come in to stop as many times.

As last season went on and I watched the different strategies play out, my mind began to wander back to the plant.  With changeovers being a necessary fact of life, it’s a given to try to minimize the amount of lost time for the change.  But, if the changeover window is getting about as small as your resources allow, maybe the question shifts from squeezing out time to doing more in the time that you are down.  Can you bring in additional resources to do smaller PM items?   Is there some opportunity to utilize that idle machine operator time for training, housekeeping, or administrative tasks?  I have been in plants before and asked what work the operators were doing or could be doing while machines cycled.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time asking what they could do when the machine isn’t running.  There is potentially a gold mine of options to design our processes as we take smaller steps towards the ideal of zero downtime for changeovers.

Technology Can Help the Go and See Process

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

There were a lot of technology companies presenting at the forum.  The companies had a lot of pretty cool technology that could be used.  AT&T presented their business mobility solutions.  It was not around the iPhone.  It was technology designed to bring real-time visibility to supply chain needs, inventory and performance dashboards.

I was very intrigued by what they were presenting.  The lean thinker in me thought to slooooooow down.  What would be the purpose of the technology?  How would it help?  It does no good to implement technology on something that will not drive any action.

Real-time technology for inventory, supply chain needs, and dashboards can have a negative effect.  If the leadership is not in the habit of going and seeing what is happening all real-time technology will do is allow a quicker solution response without understanding what is actually happening.

The real-time technology can be a great enhancement for leadership that is in the habit of going and seeing.  The quick alert of an issue can allow them to get to the area to witness the problem before it disappears.  Since the leadership sees the problem in real-time they have a better understanding and can have a countermeasure in place quicker.

Without the real-time technology, the leadership may not find out about the issue until it has disappeared which means they have to wait for the issue to come up again in order to understand the problem or spend time recreating the issue.  The team loses time before they can have a countermeasure in place.

If the leadership does not have the go and see mindset then all the real-time technology in the world will not help change the behavior.  Technology is a wonderful thing, but “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Think Technology Last in Process Design

This is part of my reflections from the OpsInsight Forum in Boston.

At the conference there were a few software companies that presented keynote speeches (IBM, CCI, and AspenTech) and breakout sessions (AT&T, Vecco International, and Llamasoft).  During these sessions I heard a lot of the right things.  They would explain that technology is not a silver bullet that will solve a companies problems.  Technology enables a process.  It isn’t the process.  Organizations should put in technology only after it has established a process.  In fact, Shekar Natarajan, from Pepsi Bottling Group, was asked what Pepsi did differently to win a national award for technology implementation.  His reply was, “We considered technology last.”

It was said that a technology company should not sell a more advanced solution than what the client needs.  Sometimes the client may not truly understand their options and want more than they are ready for, but the technology company should’t sell them that advanced solution because it will cause more problems.

Right on, right?

While I agree with what is said, that is not what I am seeing in practice.  Why is this?  I can think of two root causes for this: metrics and ignorance.

I am assuming the sales team has metrics that drive them to sell such as revenue generated or number of new clients.  In my experience, sales teams are happy to sell the client whatever solution they want whether they need it or not.  I assume they are afraid of losing a sale if they tell a client they need something less or the smaller sale will make the numbers harder to reach their metrics.

What about a metric for the sales team that has to do with the ease of implementation?  Or customer satisfaction with the technology installed?

Second is ignorance.  Ignorance by the company buying the technology.  The company may think they know what they need based on their paradigms.  In reality they are just covering up a symptom and not digging to the root cause of their issues.

It could be ignorance of the technology company, also.  The people speaking at the conference are Vice Presidents and Directors.  Maybe they don’t know what is actually happening in the field.  Maybe they haven’t directly observed the behaviors and interactions at the client.

Whatever the case, what is said and what I have observed is not matching.  Technology can be a great enabler if we put it in the proper context.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,185 other followers